Renaming spree: Erasing Muslim heritage (Column: Political Circus)
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has lived up to his reputation as a Hindutva hawk. There has been no mellowing of his attitude as is common in the cases of other hardliners ascending to the seat of power. Instead, he has taken the opportunity of the authority provided by political power to tell the province and the country that Hindu symbols and signs are of overriding importance.
Hence, the concept of a huge statue of Lord Ram on the banks of the Saryu, whole-hearted support to the Ram temple movement and the erasure of Muslim names of towns.
Starting with the renaming the Mughal Sarai railway junction, familiar to countless travellers, after a person who is little known outside the Hindutva camp -- Deen Dayal Upadhyay -- the Adityanath government has been energetically engaged in changing the names of other places as well.
These include Allahabad, which has become Prayagraj, Faizabad, now Ayodhya, and Muzaffarnagar, which may soon be called Laxmi Nagar if the government accepts the suggestion to this effect by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Sangeet Som, who had called the Taj Mahal a "blot" on Indian culture.
Encouraged by Adityanath, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has suggested the name of Karnavati for Ahmedabad. Not to be left behind, the BJP's ally, the Shiv Sena, has sought a time-frame for renaming Aurangabad and Osmanabad.
Hyderabad, too, is under the Hindutva scanner, for the BJP has said that if it won the assembly elections in Telangana, it will name the city as Bhagyanagar.
Although cities have been renamed in the past -- Chennai for Madras, Mumbai for Bombay, Kolkata for Calcutta -- the idea was generally to revive an old name such as the association of Madras/Chennai with a 16th century ruler, Chennappa Naicker.
Or to pay homage to a local deity, Mumbadevi, as in the case of Bombay. Or to bring a name phonetically close to the way it is locally pronounced like Kolkata.
But rarely has been a city renamed with the sole purpose of highlighting a Hindu name and snubbing Muslims.
True, the names of roads and localities (such as Clive Street or Connaught Place) associated with the British rulers were changed. But these steps were taken to do away with a colonial connection although the names of "friendly" foreigners were retained, as in the case of the Corbett National Park.
But the saffron brotherhood's present drive is motivated solely by a desire to erase all signs of Muslim heritage, presumably because of the belief that the community does not -- or at least should not -- have any place in the country.
Hence, BJP MP Vinay Katiyar's advice to Muslims living in India to go to Pakistan or Bangladesh.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP apparently hold the view that the Mughals and the Muslim rulers before them as well as their co-religionists today are basically aliens although the Mughals and the others made India their home unlike the British.
Although the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, argued at a three-day conclave in Delhi that Hindutva is incomplete without Muslims -- thereby acknowledging the country's multi-religious identity, which is the secular camp's view -- Adityanath's acts show that the case for accommodation is not accepted by the Hindutva hawks.
To them, the replacement of the signs of Muslim presence in the country is an expression of Hindu pride just as the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992 and the Gujarat riots of 2002 were cited as instances of Hindu "awakening".
Obviously, multicultural tenets are anathema to the Hindutva brigade as they militate against the "one nation, one people, one culture" ideals of a Hindu rashtra, where the minorities will be second class citizens.
The Hindus-only tunnel-vision of the hardliners ignores the fact that India is the birthplace of four religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism -- and the home of the followers of three other faiths -- Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, not to mention the animism of the tribals.
Even if the urgency of the present erasing of Muslim signs in the twilight years of Narendra Modi's government is due to the apprehension in ruling circles that the inadequacies of the government have left it with no option but to play the Hindu card with greater fervour, it is clear that the tactic has only brought to the fore the long-standing anti-minority outlook of the Sangh Parivar.
It is also self-evident that the occasional homilies of the RSS bigwigs in favour of accommodating Muslims and the lectures favouring pluralism given by prominent guest speakers before RSS cadres have little practical effect.
In contrast, the humiliating wiping out of little bits of India's past with their Muslim associations can only widen the gulf between the Hindus and the country's largest minority community even if the latter understands the crass political intent of the provocative acts, which have the support of only the BJP and other saffron outfits, and not of the Hindus in general.
As for the political saffronites, it has been a step by step process from the rewriting of history when Murli Manohar Joshi was the human resource development minister in order to present the Middle Ages as a time of constant conflict between Hindus and the "invaders", to the latest attempt to obliterate the concept of a composite culture or the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (culture), as it is known in Uttar Pradesh.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)